“Icon of Christ the True Vine”
Malles - Hierapetra
Icon of Christ the True Vine
In the centre of the icon is the image of Christ, depicted as Pantocrator. His arms are raised in an open gesture and he blesses with both hands while gazing directly at the on-looker. Before him the Book of the Gospels is open at the words of Saint John, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit” (John 15:5).
Proportionally far larger than the Apostles, Christ is placed at the centre of the vine, which grows up from a low hill, and from which the branches extend laterally across the panel, their tendrils looped around busts of the twelve Apostles who face inwards.
The composition is symmetrical and the flow of the design is elegant and rhythmic. A pattern of vine leaves and bunches of grapes fill the space.
John 15: 1-8
1 “’I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples’”.
To fully grasp the significance of the image that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel, one should closely observe a vine and how it grows: how the trunk and branches are united; how each branch of the vine blooms, flowers and bears fruit; and how the fruit matures under the sun and is then ready for harvesting.
This text belongs to the so-called “revelation discourses” of Jesus in which He unveils his own identity. Each discourse starts with the words: “I am”.
The text we read today is placed in the context of the Last Supper, most probably when Jesus and his Disciples were already on their way to the Garden of Olives where Jesus was going to be handed over to the Leaders of the Jews. There is a contrast between the divisions clearly evident among the Disciples and the words of Jesus inviting unity and fruitfulness.
The Vineyard in the Old Testament
The vineyard and the vine are images we frequently find in the Old Testament:
· The ‘vine’ is a reference to the bountiful vegetation present in the Promised Land.
· The Book of the Prophet Isaiah identifies the ‘vine’ with the People of Israel. As none of the vines gave good fruit they had to be uprooted. God will inflict this punishment and destroy the entire vineyard.
· Psalm 80 sings of the great care and tenderness with which God planted his ‘vineyard’ (the People of Israel) on the hills of Palestine, only to allow it to be plundered by passers-by because of the unfaithfulness of His People.
· The ‘vineyard’ is often a symbol that served to illustrate the Covenant offered by God, the infidelity of the People of Israel and their subsequent punishment.
However, in the Old Testament we do not find any text in which the ‘vine’ or the ‘vineyard’ is used as an image for the coming Messiah.
From Punishment to Restoration
There may be a subtle reference to the Trinity in this text of the Gospel of John: the Father (the ‘Vinedresser’), the Son (the ‘Vine’) and the Holy Spirit, the ‘Word’ of the Son that purifies, or the ‘sap of life’ that flows from the ‘Vine’ and gives life to the ‘branches’.
In this passage there is no message of destruction but rather one of hope and conversion. The previous words of the Old Testament about punishment being inflicted by God are not present. We are not told that God will uproot or destroy the ‘Vineyard’ but that He wants to clean and prune His ‘Vine’ in order to make it more fruitful.
Fruitfulness is possible because Jesus is the true ‘Vine’ and to those who follow him He gives the Holy Spirit who will bear fruit in plenty.
“Remain in me and I will remain in you”
Jesus needs the branches so that His life may bear abundant fruit in the world. The Disciples in turn need to remain united with Him to have life.
The disciple needs to abide in Jesus and Jesus in turn needs to abide in him/her for the ‘Vine’ to bear any fruit. This is a reciprocal relationship that is nurtured in the encounter of prayer and develops into trust (‘Ask for whatever you wish ... ’).
The reciprocity of love necessary to bear fruit is further signified by the immediate passion and death that awaits Jesus. As we have seen above, Jesus is about to be handed over to his persecutors. He loves his Disciples to the point of giving His life for them, and He asks them for their willingness to love Him and to love one another in the same measure.
God does the pruning
God prunes us through His Word spoken to us through the Scriptures, the Church, the people around us, our trials in life, ... .
His Word purifies and brings abundant fruitfulness in its wake. Purification is a gift poured out and at work especially in the midst of our sinfulness. Our ability to bear fruit depends entirely on our being united in and with Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing. Separation from Christ not only leads to fruitlessness, but also eventually to death. If the branch does not bear fruit, it will wither and die.
The glory of God is that we become disciples
Once again, the Gospel of John speaks of the ‘Glory of God’ in very ‘human’ categories. In this we see the absolute importance of becoming ever more aware of what ‘discipleship’ actually means for us. The risk is that ‘discipleship’ in our society may end with our generation if we do not go out and proclaim the Gospel to others. We are called to bear fruit by passing on to others the ‘sap’ of life (the Holy Spirit) poured down freely upon us by Jesus Christ, the true ‘Vine’, to the glory of God the Father.
“Lord, thank you for the bond of life you formed with us.
Thank you for the life-giving bond that also exists among us
because of our union with You.
Thanks to this bond we have riches to share with one another.
Grant that we may never be separated from You so that we may produce the fruits of faith, hope, and love in our world”.
When we pray, we can talk to Jesus about the various ‘prunings’ or difficult moments in our lives which have helped us to grow. There have also been ‘prunings’ or difficult moments that we have had in our Community.
We reflect on whatever makes our life unified and capable of bearing fruit. We contemplate who the Holy Spirit is for us and how He flows through us into our Community. The ‘sap’ that runs from the stem into the branches keeps the vine alive, able of bearing fruit.
To feel the powerful hand of God, the warmth of His presence, and the consolation of His company, we must opt for Christ and become as attached to him as the fruitful branch is to the vine. However, we are conscious that the purifying action of God in our lives is not always as pleasant as we would have wished. God’s action often does disturb us because it often goes against what we would wish. God’s pruning action will eventually lead us to a greater awareness of how we really are loved and cared for by Him.
Prayer is the ‘fertile’ ground where our relationship with God grows. Knowing that God pays heed to our prayers naturally increases our trust in Him. However, we must avoid remaining self-centred, closed in on ourselves and focusing only our own concerns and interests to the exclusion of those around us. Charity, particularly care and concern for the most vulnerable in our midst, is the outpouring of the life of the Spirit made manifest in our lives.
Jesus today tells us: “the Glory of the Father is that you become my Disciples”.
 John 4: 26: “I am the Messiah”. John 6: 35. 41. 48. 51: “I am the bread of life”. John 8: 12; 9: 5: “I am the light of the world”. John 10: 7.9: “I am the gate of the sheepfold”. John 10: 11. 14: “I am the good shepherd”. John 10: 36: “I am the Son of God”. John 11: 25: “I am the resurrection”. John 13: 13: “I am the Lord and Master”. John 14: 6: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 11,25) John 19: 21: “I am the king of the Jews”.  Numbers 13: 23: “Reaching the Vale of Eshcol, there they lopped off a vine branch with a cluster of grapes, which two of them carried away on a pole as well as pomegranates and figs”. 1Kings 5: 5: “Judah and Israel lived in security, everyone under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan to Beersheba, through the lifetime of Solomon”.  Isaiah 5  Isaiah 5: 25: “This is why Yahweh’s anger has blazed out against his people and he has raised his hand against them to strike them; why the mountains have shuddered and why corpses are lying like dung in the streets. After all this, his anger is not spent. No, his hand is still raised!”  Psalm 80: 8-9: “You brought a vine out of Egypt, to plant it you drove out the nations; you cleared a space for it it took root and filled the whole country”.  Psalm 80: 12: “Why have you broken down its fences? Every passer-by plucks its grapes”.  Hosea 10: 1: “Israel was a luxuriant vine yielding plenty of fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; the richer his land became, the richer he made the sacred pillars”. Isaiah 5: 1-6; Jer. 2: 21; Psalm 80: 9-16; Ezekiel 15: 1-8  Rom 5: 3-5: “Let us exult in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”. Hebrews 12: 6: “For the Lord trains those he loves, and chastises every son he accepts”.